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The Four Stages of Life

Sri Swami Sivanandaji

In our grand Indian culture they conceived of life in four stages: the preliminary stage, the development stage, the flowering or blossoming stage and the culminating fruitful stage. The satisfactory growth of the latter three stages truly depends upon the management of the first stage.

The Student Stage

The supreme value of the student period is incalculable. Student life is the most precious life. The way in which you utilise this period will decide the nature of the coming years that lie ahead of you. Your happiness, your success, your honour and your good name all depend upon the way in which you live now. In this present period, you are preparing your future. Remember this. I wish you to be great. The world has put its faith in you. Your elders keep their hope upon you. Now is the time for you to wisely mould your life, your character, your physical health, and your entire nature. It is like the laying of the foundation for an important building you wish to construct. If this building is something very important to you, then just think how much more important its proper foundation becomes in your view. The strong and continued existence of the building depends certainly upon the foundation. This is the stage you are now in. Let your preparations be wise, correct, and of such a kind that will lead to your true welfare, supreme good, and lasting happiness. You should acquire knowledge not only of History, Geography, Mathematics, etc., but also about human nature, the science of self-control, the art of developing a pure mind, the duties of men and women, and the proper relationship between you, the world and God. Thus, the first 25 years of human life should be dedicated to acquiring good health, perfect character, self-control and all that is necessary for you to know in order to live life righteously, to be financially independent via some trade or profession, and to thus attain lasting satisfaction and happiness.

The second Stage : Married Life

Having already created a firm and ideal foundation, the student enters into the second stage of life, the householder's life. One is not merely entering into a physical partnership with another physical creature, is not entering into a social relationship with another family, but is entering into a spiritual partnership with another soul in order to fulfil a mutually shared divine destiny, so that the relationship between husband and wife is essentially a spiritual partnership between two souls. Your spouse is to you everything: companion, friend, consoler, helper and partner in this great spiritual adventure. Such is the ideal and total concept of this relationship. With such an understanding, the home becomes not only a place for living the normal worldly existence, but also a place of worship and devotion. Daily worship, helping those in need, and honouring the guest (especially the chance visitor who happens to be at your door at the time of food) become primary duties of householders. Another aspect of the householders' duty is to evolve between themselves reciprocally a certain ideal behaviour of mutual love, honouring each other's individual freedom. Such an atmosphere becomes the ideal ground for nurturing the new generation. The children find that between their parents exists a beautiful relationship of harmony, love, mutual respect and tolerance, which creates an ideal atmosphere for their growth. Through their personal relationship the parents place before the children an exemplary way of conducting themselves which becomes the first educational process of the child. Home is, therefore, the nursery of the nation, nursery of the world. Providing an ideal setting and an ideal atmosphere for the generation of tomorrow is an important duty of the married couple.

Third Stage : Retirement

Having fulfilled the duties of raising children, making them adults capable of standing on their own feet, a new stage of life comes into being. Up till now you were entirely preoccupied with your family and your profession, providing for your parents, wife, children and other dependants. To a certain extent, it was a self-centred life, although one practised selflessness for the sake of the children and family. But now one must give way to the new generation. Having retired, with a little more leisure on your hands, and with a vast reservoir of professional experience and expertise, one has the time to become true selfless servants of the society, to become altruists and philanthropists. This is also the time for husband and wife, together, to enter more into the inner life, study, meditation, prayer, pilgrimage. We must realise that a time comes when we have to say "Good-bye". We have to prepare for that last journey.

The fourth Stage : Reunciation

At this time of life the only duty is to gather together one's mind and place it upon the Supreme Being. That is the fourth quarter of life, the sunset period of one's life, when all your relationships and connections are coming to a close. At this time, your entire mind should be fixed upon the Eternal, no more on the passing world. You have fulfilled all your duties, and now you have to depart. The river is reaching the ocean, and a time will come when it has to merge into the ocean.
Here one's mind has become calm, steady and pure. One's heart is desireless and free from all cravings. One is established in perfect self-restraint and virtue. This ideal state is the fruit of right living. Here, one automatically becomes absorbed in the contemplation of the Supreme and moves towards God-experience. He or she reaps the harvest of a rich inner spiritual life, supreme peace and bliss, obtaining that ultimate objective for which one has taken birth. That is the goal to be reached. What must you do? How must you live? How should you manage life satisfactorily? There are Twelve Keys to successfully managing one's life. They are listed here below:


1. Develop A clear Cut Aim

First, you must form a correct conception of how you wish to develop and perfect yourself. You must cultivate a clear-cut idea of what you want to become. Without such an aim, your life cannot move forward powerfully and progressively. You will be pulled in different directions and your mind will be distracted and much energy will be wasted. You can avoid all this if you have a well-defined aim or a set of a few definite objectives. Then there is no confusion in your way. You know what you wish to attain and in which direction to proceed. Therefore, you also understand what is right and what is wrong. What is desirable and what is undesirable. What is to be accepted and what is to be rejected in moving towards your aim of life. Such definiteness gives you great inner strength. It develops will power. It makes you a positive personality. There will be no more negative trends in your life.

2. Draw Up a wise Programme

The second important thing is to draw up for yourself a wise programme to help you to develop along the desired lines and to gradually attain the aim of life. Such a programme will provide a plan of action in meeting with all problems that face the young student, the growing youth, to deal with all the situations that arise in your life, to meet and overcome temptations with a firm mind and to surmount obstacles with boldness and self-confidence. The power to do this exists within you already in its latent state. It has to be unfolded and activated. A proper understanding of your own mind, its behavior and habits, and the law that governs the inner activity of the mind become very, very helpful in living this wonderful and interesting period of your life.

3. guard Your Health

Now we come to the factors upon which depends the proper working out of your programme of life. Health is the key factor. Without health you can do nothing. Without health you can succeed neither in studies, nor in character-building, nor in sports and social activities, nor in home-life. Health is a matter of careful living. It is got not only from things you eat and drink, but it is also obtained from your wise and careful avoiding of such things that are not good for your health. Eat for your health. Eat for your strength and not for your taste. Eat to live and to serve. Do not live to eat. Eat simple food. Go to bed early and get up early. Acquire healthy habits. Do regular exercise daily. Be moderate in eating and drinking. Chew your food thoroughly. Do not overeat. Do not eat without hunger. Avoid things that do not agree with you.

Learn about your body. Understand the inner organs. Know about a woman's monthly cycle. Eating food with calcium and iron now will help your body later on, when you are pregnant.

4. Conserve your energy

Then you must conserve your energy. Never waste your energy in useless pursuits. Too much talking and gossiping, aimless wandering, habit of worrying, losing your temper frequently-all these drain away your energy. Give up all habits that are likely to have an adverse effect on health. Smoking and illegal drugs are a curse upon students. Be established in perfect brahmacharya. Abstain from sexual activity. Preserve health, conserve energy, develop physical and mental strength and thus lay the foundation of a successful life.

5. Value Character

Value character more than anything else on earth. Be perfectly truthful. Do not let your speech be vulgar or rude. Speech must be clean, polite and joy-giving. Cast away egoism, pride and selfishness. These three form the blemish upon human character. They arise out of ignorance and greed. Ignorance makes you proud and egoistic. Greed makes you selfish. They lead to dishonour and unhappiness and failure in life. By leading a simple life and having a cheerful disposition under all circumstances, you can overcome selfishness and egoism. Your life and conduct must be the cause of happiness in other people.

6. Adop Virtues

Adopt certain virtues and principles and stick to them in all your activities. Never leave these principles. Never move away from virtue. These principles will be your true friends and helpers. They will assure your progress and ultimately grant you supreme happiness and success. Periodically make certain simple resolutions to practise those virtues. Maintain a personal diary wherein you make a careful note of your day-to-day conduct, speech and behavior. This will reveal to you how far you are advancing and show you your mistakes and where you must correct yourself. Such a diary will be your friend. It will reveal your weaknesses and teach you humility.

7. Pray to God

Pray to God and ask Him for inner strength and guidance. God's Divine Name has immense power. Repeat His Name always and remember Him in all situations. Remember God with love in your heart. Have absolute faith in your inseparable relationship with Him. Cultivate constant remembrance of God by seeing His invisible presence in and through all things in this universe. God is not far away from you. God is here and now. He is the all-pervading Reality, the ever-present Divine Spirit pervading this entire universe. And also He is your innermost Self. He is closer to you than your very breath. Never forget this. Even when you are engaged in your daily activity, begin to feel the presence of God.

8. Reflect on Idea Personalities

Reflect upon the lives of ideal personalities. Draw strength and inspiration from their lives and teachings. Try to mould your life upon their pattern. Always have a great ideal before your mind. Think of it at all times-morning, noon, evening and night. Develop it into the constant background of your thought. Then your mind will never be idle or vacant. This is important because right thinking is the key to noble living.

9. Be Kind

Out of your life there must flow ceaseless love, kindness and compassion. Never hurt anyone. Never hurt even the least of God's creatures either by thought, word or action. Even in dreams you should never think of harming or hurting any creature. This sublime principle of non-injury, harmlessness, is given a very great place in the eternal Vedic way of life. Be a centre of help, be a centre of benefit, be a centre of happiness and peace to all. Never injure, never hurt, never harm any living creature.

10. Be aboulutely truthful

You must be rooted in absolute truthfulness. Even at the cost of your life, never utter falsehood. Never be dishonest in any of your dealings with anyone in this world. Be a person of integrity, of verity. Become established in truthfulness in thought, word and deed. Truth is God. One who practises truthfulness rigidly will attain God. God is present in this human world as the sublime principle of truthfulness.

11. Sarve Others

The vexing problems of this modern world, its clashes and conflicts, its greed and exploitation, its hatred and hostilities, its mad craze for selfish acquisition will never cease or be relieved until and unless there is a change of outlook in man towards his neighbours and towards the life around him. Man makes life what it is. And life around man is but a reflection of what he is. The only rational and lasting solution to the afflictions that beset the organised society of civilised persons is a reinstating of the spirit of selfless giving into its rightful place. The more you give of yourself, the greater will be your conquest over sorrow and suffering and your ascent into peace and bliss. There can be no greater joy than seeing the smile on someone's face whom you have helped. The gift of giving comes back a hundred fold in inner peace and contentment. It is a greater good to find ways to help those outside the family. Don't be afraid to offer to help carry something for an old or disabled person. Your healthy body was created for service to the world.

12. Think Nobly

As you think, so you will become, just as you reap what you sow. In the same way, you will ultimately experience and attain what you constantly think and feel. Your inner thoughts lead to outer action. Repeated actions grow into habits. Such habits become permanent qualities in your very nature. This nature goes to form your character. Your future and your destiny is the direct result of your character. Understand this very well. Carefully bear this in your mind. Think and act with this knowledge. Your inner thoughts are the seeds of your ultimate destiny. Safeguard your thoughts and feelings. Think nobly and virtuously. You will become a noble man or woman. You will attain greatness and make your life fruitful. More than all the books that you read and study, more than all your lessons and examinations, more important than everything in life is the cultivation of virtues. This is the source of ultimate happiness. Become good and great.

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